Wednesday, June 7, 2017

History Watch: “Full Circle”

History Watch:

“Full Circle”

The list of those who have done it is short.  Some have done it by brute force and threats, while others have simply used some smarts and a little subterfuge.  Of all who have done it, they pretty much have had one thing in common.  They ended up where they started.

Escapes from the Marin County Jail have been few and far between, but it has happened from time to time.  Of all the successful escapes, there was one in November of 1966 that got a lot of attention from law enforcement that included threats, two kidnappings, gunplay and more threats.

Our story starts with one Ronald Harold Berg, a 21-year-old who stood over six feet tall with a boyish face.  He had a criminal record and was known in certain circles as a, “heavy.” He earned this title because he had a liking for holding up hotels and restaurants in San Francisco and Marin County and he was known to always carry, “heavy artillery” when he did his jobs.

On August 17, 1966, Berg and accomplice Michael Colvard robbed the Edgewater Inn in Corte Madera and they got away with $1,000.  Several days later Berg, who was armed with three .45 semi-autos, and Colvard were captured in Fairfax and they were booked into Marin County Jail on robbery charges. 

Berg, who was not one to sit idle in jail, called his co-defendant’s mother and convinced her to put up his bail with the promise that he would then raise the money needed to bail Colvard out of jail. For some reason, Colvard’s family bought the plan and they bailed Berg out.  A short time later Berg, who had jumped bail, was captured by SFPD doing another armed robbery and he was returned to Marin County Jail.

While back in jail, Berg befriended Lewis B. Pettijohn, a 33-year-old “mentally unstable” check artist. During the early morning hours of November 23, 1966, Berg and Pettijohn fashioned several iron chair legs into clubs and they threatened two jailers. At at 5:45 am they broke out of the Marin County Jail, located in the basement of the courthouse at Fourth and A Street.

Once on the street they hailed down a passing taxi, kidnapped cabbie Bruce Hall and made him drive them to the west end of Terra Linda.  Once there, they ran from the cab and hiked over the hills into the Sleepy Hollow area of San Anselmo. While looking for a place to hide out they came upon a house located on Fawn Drive and, at 6:50 am, they broke in and held the Jorgensen family, consisting of mom, dad, and their 17-year-old son, hostage.  Berg discovered the son had a rifle and Berg armed himself with it.

The dynamic duo planned to take the family car with a hostage and drive out of the area, but wanted to make sure that there were no police around. They told Mrs. Jorgensen to take her car out for a drive to check for “cops.”  They told her that if she tried any funny business they would kill her family. Mrs. Jorgensen went out in the family car and she immediately drove to Smilin’ Ed Woods’ Service Station at Butterfield and Sir Francis Drake Blvd. where she called the police.  She was told to return to the house and give the all clear. 

The Marin County Sheriff’s Office and many other police departments in the county amassed one of the largest dragnets of law enforcement officers this county has ever seen. Over 100 officers were deployed to Sleepy Hollow with some on surrounding hills where they could get eyes on the Jorgensen home.

Once told there were no cops around, Berg and Pettijohn made their move by taking Mr. Jorgensen in the family car.  Berg was armed with the rifle as they left the house.  As the car reached the entrance to Sleepy Hollow, police cars suddenly pulled out blocking the road. A small army of officers swarmed the car and took both suspects into custody without anyone firing a shot.  The officers making the arrests were Sheriff Louis Mountanos, San Anselmo Chief Ray Buchignani, Fairfax Chief James Orr and Marin Sheriff’s Inspector A. V. Menjou.

And here our story ends with a short-day trip taken by two criminals, who bought themselves a great of trouble, only to have ended up where they started.  

Attached are two photos.  One is of San Rafael Police Officer John Riordan interviewing cab driver Bruce Hall.  The second photo is of our two escapees.

Copyright 2017 Harry Barbier – All Rights Reserved

Officer John Riordan - 11-23-66

Suspects Berg and Pettijohn